Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Jeanne, Coco and Lucie

"On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me, three French hens"

There are plenty of birds that make for pretty names, but hens and chickens don't really make that list. Instead, I thought I'd look at the names of three famous French women. But how to choose? If you look at French history three are a lot of women who have done great things. So back to those three French hens. Some say that the carol 'The Twelve Days of Christmas' is actually full of religious symbolism, the three French hens representing the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Although this theory has been debunked, I thought I'd look at some women who display these virtues.

She's better known as the heroine Joan of Arc, but her actual name was Jeanne (pronounced ZHAHN). Her name means 'God is gracious' and she was devoted in her faith to both God and the French people. Both Jeanne and Joan have a long history of use in the U.S., although Joan has been much more popular, probably because she is more intuitive for non French speakers to pronounce properly, whereas Jeanne would more likely be pronounced like a pair of denim pants. Neither are very popular currently (Joan peaked in 1949), but there's no denying that Jeanne D'Arc remains an inspirational figure.

Coco Chanel came from very humble beginnings to become one of the most iconic designers and influential people of the 20th century. Born Gabrielle, it's thought that she adopted the name Coco in her earlier years as an entertainer. It's said to be inspired either by one of two popular songs she was associated with, or as an allusion to her being considered a cocotte (a French term for a kept woman). When it turned out her voice was not strong enough, Coco turned to fashion and achieved her hope of fame through design instead.

For a long time people inspired by Coco Chanel were much more likely to use Chanel - a French name meaning 'dweller by the canal' - as a name for their child. It's been a top 1000 name much more often than not since the 70's, the decade when the designer passed away. Coco on the other hand was seen as nickname only territory, a name only suitable for pets. The tide is slowly turning on that though, largely helped when Courtney Cox chose Coco for her daughter in 2004. She chose it because it was a nickname of hers when she was a child. With an example to look to, it seems a lot less silly and a lot more chic these days. It's still a long way from the top 1000 in the U.S. but things are looking up for this cute, spunky nickname come birth name.

Many French women were quite active members of the French Resistance during World War II, working for the benefit of their country. Lucie Aubrac was one such woman. She was a Resistance leader and founder of the underground newspaper 'Liberation'. Lucy has long been the much more popular spelling in the western world, but this French variation certainly has its charm. Lucie covers a lot of styles - it's old fashioned yet modern sounding, soft and girlish yet strong and assertive, sweet yet sassy. Meaning 'light', Lucy is a top 100 name, while Lucie is still slowing inching her way towards the top 1000 in the U.S.

Jeanne, Coco and Lucie all have alternatives that have so far proven to be more popular in the U.S. to date. But as we become more of a global community our search for and acceptance of different names becomes much wider. Maybe one day these three French "hens" will overtake their more popular counterparts.

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